I’ve spent quite a bit of time in West Hartford. When I was a teenager in the mid-1990s, my brother, who’s about 15 years older than me, started a family and bought his first house in Elmwood Center near the Newington and Hartford lines.
We’d be there for football Sundays, birthdays, holidays — I remember carrying my 3-month-old niece down the sidewalk on New Britain Avenue as our family made its way to St. Brigid for her baptism. “Godfather” was added to my résumé that day, a title that felt so important to 15-year-old me.
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On the way to the church we walked past the Elm Theater, a landmark in the community since 1947 that eventually closed in 2002. Now it’s just a Walgreens with a fancy retro marquee. The Sound of Music must have looked so much better up there than Get your flu shot.
Now I’m back for a day to see what else there is to do in West Hartford, other than to christen a kid or fill a prescription.
8:30 a.m. Reservoir jogs
It’s a clear, sunny January morning so I figure I’ll get the blood flowing and work up an appetite before breakfast with a brisk walk at the West Hartford Reservoir. (It’s a little too cold for my preferred leisurely stroll.) With 3,000 acres of woodlands and over 30 miles of trails for walking, jogging, biking and hiking, this area is popular with locals, especially in the summertime.
9:30 a.m. Nothing’s finer than being in your diner
The Quaker Diner, built in 1931, is on every list of “best diners” in the state and I’m excited to finally find out what all the fuss is about. My mother lives in the area so I invited her to meet me for breakfast. What a good son.
Every inch of the interior is classic. Archaic equipment for making milkshakes, black-and-white photos on the wall, a Mad Men-era ad for Moxie, and a machine that gives you your weight and horoscope for 5 cents (weight-only for 1 cent).
We each order pancakes — very berry for me, raspberry for mom — with a side of bacon and corned beef hash. Absolutely out of this world. The pancakes are light and fluffy and they didn’t skimp at all on the berries. The fuss is justified.
Ready to complete my duties of being a good son, I take the check to the register to pay. “Cash only,” the sign reads. Uh oh. “Hey, Ma …”
I still owe her $20. What a bad son.
11 a.m. Circling the Square
After breakfast I head over to Blue Back Square, the mixed-use development adjacent to West Hartford Center. I grab a parking spot on South Main Street by the Noah Webster statue in front of the Noah Webster Library. Not coincidentally, Noah Webster was born in West Hartford.
Webster wrote the first American dictionary and published the Blue Back Speller in 1783, which went on to sell over 100 million copies and teach generations of Americans how to read and speak. His birthplace, now a historic house museum and home to the West Hartford Historical Society, is about a mile south of the statue.
I take the Webster Walk — a walkway with the alphabet painted in different colors on a brick wall adorned with various quotes from Mark Twain — from the statue down into Blue Back Square. I do some window shopping at Crate and Barrel and West Elm but the Woof Gang Bakery gets me through the door. Not one to normally drop $5 on a gourmet dog treat, the guilt from leaving my little guy at home alone gets to me.
11:45 a.m. Hit the SPoT
Window shopping is not a winter sport so I duck into SPoT Coffee to warm up. The menu of coffee, tea, smoothies, sandwiches and pizzas is almost as long as the neighboring Cheesecake Factory, but I’m content with a chocolate cherry latte and a seat on the couch near the gas fireplace. It’s a big space with tons of couches, chairs and tables, so even though it’s fairly busy it doesn’t feel crowded.
12:30 p.m. Brand spankin’ noodle
Lucky break for me that right across the street from SPoT is the newly opened Kaliubon Ramen. I sit at the small L-shape bar and order a $15 lunch combo of pork and shrimp dumplings and short rib ramen. The dumplings are incredibly flavorful with just the right amount of spice and the ramen is killer too.
I’ve been less than impressed with some of the more highly regarded noodle places in this state. Kaliubon is immediately in my top three off those two dishes alone. Really hoping this level of quality is maintained beyond the opening week.
2 p.m. Miss from a rose
Everyone I solicited suggestions from for what to do in West Hartford mentioned Elizabeth Park. But they also mentioned that the famous rose garden wouldn’t be in bloom until mid-June. I decide to check it out anyway.
Passing by beautiful brick homes on Asylum Avenue, I turn into Elizabeth Park and see the Pond House Cafe, greenhouses and a whole lot of construction. The park is being upgraded and the brownstone building by the main parking lot is being remodeled into a visitors center. It’s also the middle of winter. I’ll be back in June.
3 p.m. Baby strollin’
I have a buddy in Elmwood who just had his first kid and is home on paternity leave, so I stop by to meet the little eight-pounder. The three of us head out on the Trout Brook Trail — a paved pathway for runners, walkers and cyclists that will be 3.6 miles long when complete — to give his wife an hour or two to relax. Before I know it, here I am, 23 years later, walking down New Britain Avenue with a baby again. Except this time I’m headed to happy hour, not church.
4 p.m. This land is Beachland
We get a table at Beachland Tavern for apps, drinks and some much-needed catching up. Tales of no sleep and diaper changes are told over chicken tenders, buffalo fried ribs and bourbon cocktails.
After we pay the tab we head next door to Harvest Wine & Spirits so my buddy can get his wife a six-pack of Athletic Brewing’s Run Wild non-alcoholic IPA. And I’m thrilled to see the return of Chocolate Truffle Stout, the seasonal collaboration between Thomas Hooker Brewery and Munson’s. I’ll carry the beer, you take the baby.
5:30 p.m. New Park …
I head down to New Park Brewing to check out West Hartford’s first craft brewery, which will celebrate its third anniversary this month. The vibe is righteous with snowboards on the wall, the beer is quality and there’s always a different food truck in the parking lot. I sample the Cloudscape IPA and Hopiary DIPA but pass on the Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ outside. I’m meeting my wife for dinner.
6:30 p.m. … and an old favorite
Chef Billy Grant opened Restaurant Bricco in 1996 and almost 25 years later it’s still considered by many the best place in town. And if I’m in a great Italian restaurant, pasta is a must.
We split Grandma’s Ravioli (chicken and prosciutto filling, guanciale, tomato sugo) as an appetizer before a main course of pappardelle with a ragu of braised lamb shank for me and ricotta gnocchi with short rib ragu, mushrooms and butternut squash for her. As good as it sounds, it tastes even better. Just a fantastic restaurant in all phases of the game from food to drink and service to ambiance.
Now I’m heading home with a belly full of ’delle after spending a great day with family and friends in a fun town. I just hope my pup isn’t too mad that I was gone all day. If he is, the $5 cookie shaped like a football should help smooth things over.
On the Calendar
Here are +some upcoming events to check out in West Hartford:
March 6-13: Spring Greenhouse Show
Elizabeth Park Conservancy’s annual show features a spectacular array of spring bulbs and plants. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Elizabeth Park
Through March 8: Pride and Prejudice
This isn’t your grandmother’s Austen. Bold, surprising, boisterous and timely, this Pride and Prejudice for a new era explores the absurdities and thrills of finding your perfect (or imperfect) match in life. Tue.-Sun., Playhouse on Park
March 25-April 5: Divas
Ever wish you could see all of your favorite divas on one stage? Well, thanks to award-winning choreographer/director Darlene Zoller, West Hartford is getting the diva treatment. Wed.-Sun., Playhouse on Park
June 6-7: Celebrate West Hartford
The 34th annual Celebrate West Hartford two-day community fair will attract nearly 40,000 people from the Greater Hartford area, providing festival attendees with a wide range of family activities. Sat. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun. noon-6 p.m., Town Hall
June 12: Wine & Roses
Wine & Roses is the Elizabeth Park Conservancy’s 13th annual signature fundraiser at the Pond House Cafe. 6:30 p.m., Elizabeth Park
June 20-21: Rose Weekend
The Elizabeth Park Conservancy unveils thousands of rose bushes and arches in bloom. Sat.-Sun. 10 a.m. till dusk
5 facts about West Hartford
The universities of Hartford and Saint Joseph are both in town.
Westfarms Mall, which sits on the town line of West Hartford and Farmington (hence the name), opened in 1974.
Former resident Korczak Ziolkowski is the sculptor who created the Noah Webster statue. He later accepted an invitation to begin carving a 563-foot-high statue of Crazy Horse into Mount Thunderhead in South Dakota. He died in 1982 at age 74, with only a rough outline of Crazy Horse completed.
A Revolutionary War campsite in the woods near Reservoir #6 is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Elizabeth Park Rose Garden is the first municipal and third-largest rose garden in the country.
West Hartford is known for its safe neighborhoods and sense of community, in addition to countless dining and shopping options and close access to I-84 and I-91.
For $199,900: A three-bedroom, 1½-bathroom, 1,080-square-foot Cape at 25 Chamberlin Drive.
For $499,900: A four-bedroom, 2½-bathroom, 2,814-square-foot Colonial at 33 Rosedale Road.
For $795,000: A four-bedroom, 3½-bathroom, 3,775-square-foot Colonial at 78 E. Maxwell Drive.